Lawyer Counseling Program: Proven Results, Problems Resolved
By Shirley Ann Higuchi
One third of adults in the United States experience an emotional or substance abuse problem.1
Nearly 25 percent of the adult population suffers at some point from depression or anxiety.2
There have always been situations that can cause emotional stress, but today pressures have intensified. We are constantly exposed to stress. Job stress: the possibility of getting laid off; fewer people doing the same amount of work; uncertainty; constant change. Family and relationship stress: the challenge of dual careers; raising children on tight work schedules; troubled teenagers; children with behavioral problems or learning disabilities.
These pressures can cause emotional and psychological difficulties, overwhelming people with sadness and helplessness, and making them lack hope in their lives. The strain can make it hard for them to function from day to day. For example, they are unable to concentrate on assignments, and their job performance suffers as a result. These facts are all the more pressing when viewed in light of the latest research, which shows that emotional and physical health are very closely linked.3
Having been with the American Psychological Association (APA), I have become aware of the growing occurrence of depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder (ADD), and other concerns in our community and their debilitating effects. Though harmful in and of themselves for the reasons stated above, they can also indirectly cause harm by pushing people toward the destructive acts of self-medication through alcohol and drugs. Working at the APA has also increased my awareness of solutions to these conditions: counseling and therapy, and good sources of obtaining them.
Research shows that therapy effectively decreases patients depression, anxiety, and ADD, and the many physical symptoms related to them, such as pain, fatigue, and nausea. Therapy has also been found to increase the survival time for heart surgery and cancer patients. Therapy can have an overall positive effect on the bodys immune system. Indeed there is now convincing evidence that most people who have several sessions of therapy are far better off than untreated individuals with emotional difficulties. One major study showed that 50 percent of patients in therapy noticeably improved after just eight sessions, and 75 percent improved by the end of just six months.4
These are dramatically positive results that speak for themselves. Furthermore, they press us to increase both the sources of therapy and the awareness of them, so that those who may benefit most from therapy are able to avail it when they need it most.
To this end, the legal community in the District of Columbia is fortunate to have the laudable efforts of the D.C. Bars Lawyer Counseling Program (LCP). Established in 1985, it was one of the first lawyer assistance programs in the country. Throughout the years the program has helped lawyers overcome life problems and improve the quality of their lives. LCP staff and volunteers also provide educational programs on such topics as substance use, abuse, and dependence and stress. The program has both professional staff and trained lawyer-volunteers who work with peers under the protection of Rule 1.6(h) of the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct. The program is free and confidential.
Through conversations with Lynn Phillips, the director of LCP, I have come to know more about the way the program functions. I am impressed by the level and variety of help and intervention techniques the program uses, from handling referrals on a one-on-one basis to making firmwide presentations and interventions, to holding seminars in law schools. The latter, I think, is very crucial.
It has been my experience that law school culture tends to encourage heavy drinking as a form of social interaction. I have always wondered what effect this has on the formation of ones identity as a lawyer, and on the social activity of choice for the legal community. By taking proactive steps and reaching out to law students, LCP not only works in a preventive way, but lets students know at the outset where to turn to if they ever need help.
LCP has been a stroke of luck for the countless individuals who have used it to overcome the emotional and psychological difficulties they face. In helping people it has served our community well: it has been a positive force of betterment and mitigation of the serious problems of depression, anxiety, and ADD. LCPs success proves that these problems can be resolved.
If you are experiencing such problems, or if you know of anyone who is, help is available. The next time that friend calls, distressed, needing help, and you dont know exactly what to do, urge your friend to call the Lawyer Counseling Program on its confidential line: 202-347-3131. That, at least, is what I have promised myself to do.
- National Institute of Mental Health, 1998.
- American Psychological Association, How to Find Help Through Psychotherapy (1998).